REV. THOMAS McKEE BROWN,
RECTOR OF THE
Church of St. Mary the Virgin
December 8-15, 1876.
As MEN grow older and gain experience, they grow more temperate, more observing, more appreciative of all around them. So it seems to us, who have been these six years together, that we have reached a period in our united existence when we can reflect, profit by experience, and turn to a fresh page in the history that we are writing for ourselves. For we have reached that place where a kind Providence has sent us special blessings; and while we stand to wonder why He has been so good to us for the little that we have done to Him or to ourselves, it is also to hear His encouraging Voice, to be humble and thankful, and start forth again with renewed vigor, and renewed vows of faithfulness and endurance.
We have much to thank GOD for. We cannot now tell all. We think the time will soon come. But we feel like voyagers on the sea, who have been for a long passage in the dangers that surround the strongest of frail vessels; who have enjoyed bright days, good winds, and have never suffered from a great storm, although destruction could have been summoned speedily at any time; and who see close at hand a harbor, a friendly shore, and (bright above all) a clear sky and the glory of a rising sun. Into such a harbor, do we believe, the Divine Pilot is about to lead us.
With all our success—even spiritually—there is the important matter of support, which forces itself into the question of the efficiency of the preaching of the Holy Gospel. Common sense teaches us that in this world, where food, raiment and shelter are necessary, none of them can be had without some labor, no matter how little. The same instinct teaches us that churches cannot be built and kept in repair, and in a condition for use, without payment or donation of money that some one has accumulated by labor. Nor can churches be served by intelligent clergy and other ministrants unless offerings be made to support them while they give their time and talents to such a duty. If a person approach another, and ask the plain question, "Should any one work for you continually and faithfully, and receive no payment or gift in return?" he will undoubtedly answer, "No. I will pay my way as I go, and will not [1/2] permit myself to be placed under such an obligation to any man or company of men." If such an one be asked, "Do you expect to gain eternal life without the ministrations of religion?" he will answer, "No." Even if he venture to say that he can live without the aid of religion, he will inwardly expect that some clergyman whom he has not supported, from some parish church that he has not attended, will come and reverently bury his body; and by that fact (unless he give express orders that he be put under-ground as the brute beasts, without a prayer) he admits that he expects the ministrations of religion, and that he is under obligation to support it, at least for the value of that one service.
Yet when the call is made for money for churches, for missions, for the poor, the applicant may be silently criticised as "another intruding church beggar." When the appeal to good-will fails, and the idea of obligation is urged, it may be put aside with assumed independence. And then, the flattering unction laid to his heart, from the avaricious abundance of that heart may come some honeyed quotation through eloquent lips, "You appeal for your Master, JESUS CHRIST, and say all men are obliged to support His Church; but remember that the Gospel should be preached freely everywhere, without money and without price."
There always have been bounden duties and free-will vows, regular acts of religion and voluntary special prayers and acts of self-denial. So there always have been bounden tithes and voluntary thank-offerings. Before the Jews were gathered under the Law of Moses, tithes and thank-offerings were rendered side by side—and those of a sacerdotal nature. The history of Cain and Abel shows this. And the offering made by Abraham to Melchisideck shows it. Nor has there been one word written in the Law of the New Testament to show that Christianity abrogated obligatory payments and kept the principle of free-will offerings only, or swallowed up tithes by calling for offerings of love. St. Paul, indeed, corrected certain Christians for keeping up Jewish ceremonies; but it was circumcision and feast-days, not the payment of tithes or the bringing liberally of thank-offerings, or the observance of one day in seven, or the sustenance of the priesthood, or such other universal principles, that he laid under interdict. "If ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing." "How turn ye back to the weak and beggarly rudiments, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years." And among those things which he did unqualifiedly ordain as a continuance from the Jewish system was this: "Do ye not know that they who minister about [2/3] Holy Things live of the Sacrifice: and they who wait at the Altar are partakers with the Altar? Even so hath the LORD ordained that they who preach the Gospel should live of the Gospel."
That the principle of voluntary and obligatory offerings was approved by CHRIST is beyond question; for He received the anointing of Saint Mary Magdalene; He told the young man to forsake all his worldly possessions, give them to the poor, and then come, penniless, and follow Him; He lived with the Apostles out of one purse in common; and He told the Pharisees, "Ye pay tithe of mint, anise, and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law—judgment, mercy, and faith; these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone."
The requirements of the Pharisees above the Law of Moses, CHRIST declared were not binding—such as ceremonial washings, the forbidding to rub the ears of corn on the Sabbath, and the like; an example which made St. Paul's words only the stronger. For in addition to St. Paul's statement of obligatory duties in supporting religion, which we have just read, he added, in the same Epistle, the common-sense words, "Who goeth a warfare at any time at his own cost? Who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not of the fruit thereof? Or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock?" And writing to a Bishop, he said, "Let the Elders that rule well, be counted worthy of double pay, especially they who labor in the word and doctrine. For the Scripture saith, 'Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn,' and 'The laborer is worthy of his reward.'"
It seems scarcely probable that such words from CHRIST and the Apostle mean that religion is to be supported in a haphazard manner, or that Christians are free to give from choice or caprice.
Even the directions which may be said to favor voluntary offerings do not exclude the principle of obligatory payments. "Charge them that are rich in this world that they be not high-minded, nor trust in uncertainty of riches . . . that they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate." And the noted case of almsgiving for the poor Saints in Jerusalem, "Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as GOD hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come," does not abrogate, nor hint at the abrogation of, obligations to the regular support of religion.
If there were not a word in the writings of the Early Fathers, or in the Canons of the Early Church, then we might safely venture to assert that silence meant that Christians were not to be taxed with [3/4] regular payments for Church support. But there are many such references which sustain the principle in question.
One says: "The tithes of the field and of the flock not only teach us to reverence God, but also not to be covetous in anything, but to impart to the Priests of GOD'S goodness to us." Another: "How can our righteousness exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees, if they do not dare to taste the fruits of their land before they have set apart the tithes for the Levites, and I, doing none of these things, so abuse the fruits of the earth that the Priest does not know them, the Levite never sees them, the Altar of GOD remains unconscious of them? Thus I assert that this command ought to stand according to the letter." Another: "This now holds in regard to the Clergy—that they who are promoted in the Church of GOD by Clerical Ordination, held in honor by the contributing brethren, and taking tithes of their fruits, should not retire from the Altar and the Sacrifices." Another: "Like the Levite and the Priest of old, I live of the tithe, I am sustained by the oblation of the Altar;" and "Whoever neglects the duty of paying his tithe is convicted of defrauding GOD." Another, whose name is in the Prayer-book: "If such an obligation existed under the old dispensation, how much more under the new!" "If there was danger in neglecting to pay the tithe under the old covenant, how much more under the new!"
And one more, likewise named in the Prayer-book: "By the mercy of Christ, my Christian Brethren, we are approaching the days of gathering in the grain, and therefore, while we give thanks to GOD, let us think of our offerings, yea, of the payment of our tithes." "Tithes are required as a matter of debt, and he who does not pay them preys upon the property of another."
The fact that such advice was given in the Early Church, therefore, disposes of the question; and obligation to support religion with stated offerings at regular times, as well as with voluntary gifts on special occasions, is a certainty. Not that all men are to give the same sum. That never was required. The affairs of the business world simply prevent that. But as the LORD hath prospered each man, so he is to give—the rich to give liberally, the poor of their poverty. If the poor have no money, they may yet receive of the abundance of the others—because they are poor, and he that hath is required to give to him that lacketh. But no rich man is ever to think that he can receive of that which the others give while he gives nothing; for such an outrage is to "prey upon the property of another."
Indeed, there is a noted case in the writings of one of the Fathers [4/5] which bears upon people coming to church, partaking of every offered advantage, and giving nothing in return. The rebuke reads: "Thou art wealthy and rich, and dost thou believe thyself to celebrate the ordinance of the LORD, who dost not at all regard the Offering? who comest into the LORD'S House without a Sacrifice? who takest a part of the Sacrifice which a poor person has offered?"
From the earliest age, the Christians made their offerings, bounden and voluntary, in connection with the Celebration of the Holy Eucharist. A system was afterwards devised whereby only certain kinds of gifts were permitted to be placed on the Altar. Things brought in bulk were taken to the Treasury, or some other fitting place; and only the Bread and Wine for the Sacrament, Oil for the Lights, and Incense for the Celebration, were permitted to be placed directly upon the Holy Table. But in whatever shape the offerings came, the principle was maintained that they were a part of the Chief Service, the mind of the giver being disposed to that idea, even if the gift were such that it could not be placed on the Altar or received into the Church building.
In the Free Church movement of these days some are very particular to maintain that all offerings should be placed directly on the Altar, not only at the Celebration of the Blessed Sacrament, but at every service. They also press the point that there should be no subscription papers, or requests made to bind the members of a congregation to fixed pledges; that the true idea is to trust to what people choose to give, not knowing beforehand how much may be expected, so that every offering be voluntary, and nothing binding.
It is fair to say that this is only a partial view of Christian obligations, and a false one, as well as a very worrying and uncertain way to maintain a parish. Those who are employed have a clear right to know that their salaries will be promptly paid. Those who employ them have a right to discover the income of a parish, so that they may be assured that they are justified in employing the Clergy and others, and this before they make agreement with them.
If in the matter of making offerings at the Celebration there is any distinction to be made, it should be that all voluntary offerings are for the poor, or for any special purpose, rather than for regular parish expenses and debts. The words of the rubric are to that effect: "The Alms for the poor and other Devotions of the people" are to be then collected and "placed humbly" on the Altar, after the Priest has "presented" them to GOD. Some Free Church people are very strenuous Rubricians, and strain oftentimes over a gnat. What [5/6] would they think if a Priest in a Free Church, acting upon the Rubric, should give all their "Alms and other Devotions" to the poor? For he controls all offerings made at the Celebrations by Canon. Then let men draw the proper distinction, and admit that alms and votive offerings are not the same as tithes and obligatory payments. Let them bind themselves by special pledges or subscriptions, and pay these. In addition, let them give "Alms" outright; let them make many "other Devotions" distinctly. And if they find that they must go beyond the Rubric at any rate, let them pay their pledges and subscriptions, if they will, by placing them on the collection plates; but let them be sure to place "Alms" that cannot be turned into coal bills and gas bills, except in the houses of the poor. For to suppose that the Priest must hand to the Treasurer one cent, or every cent, of the collections made by authority of that Rubric, and to give with the idea of paying church expenses and let the poor suffer, when all that money is distinctly called "Alms and other Devotions," is to break the Rubric in letter and in spirit. And Free Church Rubricians should be very careful to observe the Rubrics, and not swallow camels. For my own part, as your Pastor, I must beg you to help me observe the Rubric, in these times of so-called Innovations, and make larger offerings for the Poor and other special purposes.
Here let me ask the question fairly of those who advocate Free churches: Do not those persons who bind themselves, in churches where pews are rented, to pay at stated intervals so much money towards Church Expenses, and who make "Alms" and offer special "other Devotions" on what old-fashioned people call "Communion Sunday," and who collect special contributions for Missionary and Diocesan purposes, come more nearly to keeping the Rubric? Do they not follow more faithfully the principle of tithes and freewill offerings? I think that they do, and that they devote their money more rubrically than persons who do not pledge themselves, and yet expect that "Alms" shall go for expenses incurred.
Perhaps I should say in this place that too seldom do we make an Offering especially as "Alms for the Poor." Not that "Alms" are never offered here at our Celebrations. They are. But only yesterday did I bury two sisters, children of our Sunday-school, for whom I have had to run in debt by supplying graves, coffins, and means of carrying their bodies to the cemetery. Their house is desolate. And at any time I may be called upon to minister in such heart-rending scenes without having the means all ready to do as Christian sympathy and instincts dictate.
 Consequent upon these thoughts, and assured of your good-will, of which there are many telling evidences, it is proper to speak of the way in which the men of this congregation have originated a method whereby they may conveniently secure to the parish whatever obligations should be promised. Over six months ago they met in consultation, and resolved themselves into a "General Committee," of which (by a unanimous vote, at a largely attended meeting), they decided that every male member of the parish, in good standing and of legal age, should be considered a member. This gives every such person a right to give counsel and help in Parish affairs.
From this "General Committee" they elected seven to assist the Trustees of the Church, who were declared ex officio members of this committee, to be known as the "Executive Committee." To their share, naturally, will fall the details and burdens of questions which are within their province to discuss. From the "Executive Committee" a plan issued whereby persons should have the privilege of pledging to the Church such sums of money as they were able to contribute; the convenience of contributing on every Sunday being considered, as well as the satisfactory position of the Treasurer, whereby he will be in receipt of money continually to pay expenses promptly and without anxiety. The result of this plan has been that the bulk of the congregation have pledged themselves to contribute each Sunday a stated sum of money, most of them have paid promptly and regularly, and the amount thus collected has increased the income nearly $1,000 above that raised in the corresponding six months of 1875.
By gaining this much, and by being ready to improve upon the system as then proposed, in whatsoever way experience shall indicate, the "Executive Committee" and the members of the congregation will doubtless have a more encouraging report to make as time goes on.
They are right in bringing forward the principle of duty, of pledges, of tithes, or whatever else it may be called; and in the end, every one who learns from them how Christians ought to give, will thank them for starting the movement, and for testing it carefully and patiently.
Even if the manner of giving in "envelopes" should some day be modified, the principle will have been established that each one is bound to pay tithes to GOD, according as GOD has blessed him, and that it is robbery (to use the language of Holy Scripture), not to pay tithes for religion. And each one will have learned that he has not made a free-will or voluntary offering, no matter how much he [7/8] has donated, until he has paid his tithe to the last penny. Then, whatever he gives over that, partakes of the nature of self-denial and a voluntary or votive gift.
In a large city like our metropolis, the pledge system by "envelopes" can be more easily worked. For the confidential nature of the method, the payment of small sums weekly, are such that people who have limited means, and who make up the bulk of the congregations, are more happily dealt with. And in our own case, the fact is that this larger amount of money contributed has come from those not well off, and in sums comparatively insignificant in their own eyes. The six months have passed without our money having been emptied out of the Treasury and the credit of the parish being at all questioned in the matter of current expenses.
It doubtless will occur to all, that even if the letter of the law do not now require payments to be made at the time of the Celebration of the Blessed Sacrament, and in the manner of an Offertory, yet it is not inconsistent with the practice of the Early Church. And there is no small gain to be acquired if thereby people can be taught that all Offerings to GOD should be sanctified, and they use this means to call a blessing upon their gifts and dues.
There is only one caution to be observed in keeping up this custom, even should wisdom decree that it is of a temporary nature and may be corrected or modified; which is, to carefully distinguish between the nature of obligatory payments and the "alms" or special "other Devotions" which the Church so plainly shows ought to be made an holy, votive offering in union with the Offering of the Blessed Sacrament of the BODY and BLOOD of our LORD and Saviour JESUS CHRIST.
The Ladies of St. Mary's Guild, by persistent effort and devoted good-will, have contributed largely to the funds of the Parish. Their record has always been worthy. This year they have undertaken no very arduous work, as a large Fair would be. But by collecting dues, asking for contributions—which is a comparatively silent method and unobservable to any ordinary visitor, by a small Fair held in the rooms of the church—inconvenient for such a purpose yet yielding them a return of nearly $400, they have placed in the hands of the Treasurer of the Church this year over $1,000.
It has always been my happiness and privilege to say a good word to them and for them in their praise. Once more I bid them and their willing hearts, Godspeed, and commend their work sincerely to the rest of the congregation. Every man of us can become an Associate of this Guild. Every child likewise can help, and [8/9] every woman become a member. The work of the Schools is under their care, and has increased in efficiency. Because it is among and for the young, it will tell in the future history of the parish. It is also among and for the poor, and therefore performs the work of humanity—elevated by religious culture.
If Saint Mary's Guild work thus successfully in comparative silence and humbly, they may joyfully recall the example of Mary, the Mother of God, who performed her part and duty, with few words—but always well-timed, with great humility—but always to receive increasing veneration and honor, with fulness of grace—and consequent satisfaction to herself, Her Divine Son, the Eternal Godhead, and all generations of men. "All generations shall call her blessed." She is the Patron and Example of our Saint Mary's Guild.
The members of the Choir deserve much praise. Their work is arduous. By day and by night they are at their post. It is not their only labor to be ministrants in Divine Service, when the eyes and ears of their fellow men see their reverent behavior and hear their melodious music. Worship needs their devout help;—altho' worship may be truly offered to God in the early week day morning, when there is neither much ceremony nor sweet music to mark its fervent sincerity; and at other times also in the same simplicity of plain services. But the worship of our High Celebrations and of our Vesper Services would be impossible as a Grand Act of the congregation, (except under the most exciting and extraordinary influences which now and then stir men's hearts), unless the Choir shewed the sweetness of the spirit of their patron Saint Cecilia, and improved and taught the sounds of praise in the Church. There is much discussion in the world about church music, how elaborate it should be, how plain, how elevated and how congregational. But whatever may be the merits of the question, one thing this Choir desires to accomplish, without hindering the congregational singing of Litany, Hymns, Chants and Responses—to elevate the High Celebration of the Holy Communion to an Act of Sacrifice, Worship and Praise, to make it a part of the Worship of Heaven where, as the sound of many waters, they sing the New Song of the Lamb before the great Golden Altar. I am sure that we wish them success, knowing that all great achievements are of comparatively slow progress, need vigilant care, unwearying patience, sound judgment, and are subject to unexpected obstacles, unavoidable impediments, and temporary standstills. Those of us who work hardest in the parish, will have the least criticism to make, will appreciate best every difficulty, [9/10] and will judge most kindly of the efforts that are made to worship God in an edifying manner. With the increasing efficiency of the Choir, it has become necessary to turn to the congregation for more pecuniary help, which I trust will be as freely given on their part, as the members of the Choir deserve.
From time to time complaints have been made that there was an inconvenience in the matter of obtaining and occupying seats at our Chief Services. We are probably of one mind as to the advantage of Free Sittings in a church which desires to bring truth to the people. But there are certain serious objections to the indiscriminate mixture of people of all sorts in a Free Church, particularly when we consider the separation of families, and the crowding out of our own people on special Feast Day Services, by the strangers who come in and appear to take the best seats, or all the seats, as a matter of right.
I do not mean that any respectful person is not welcome. On the contrary. But the law of the State under which we are organized does not leave any congregation at the mercy of strangers, but expressly provides for the observance of good manners and a decent compliance with the customs of the parish on the part of those who come here. And good manners is a very important part of religion as well as civilized life. The law of the State stipulates but one thing on our part regarding seats, which is, that we charge no pew rent. All the other matters pertaining to the use of seats is left to the discretion of the authorities of the church.
It has been proposed that, for the comfort and protection of the members of this parish, seats be allotted to them. This will be a convenience on all ordinary Sundays, and a protection on all High Days. The manner of effecting this is to be discussed when the whole question is discussed—freely; and every one is to be given an opportunity to express his honest opinion. My own opinion is quite clear as to the right and propriety of this measure. For in all "Free Churches," as they are called, people settle down to certain seats, the members do not disturb or intrude upon each other, and, while they have no legal claim to the seats, they feel aggrieved if a stranger takes their seat. This tacit agreement to let people have their own seats, and yet blandly try to smooth over every agitation that arises when they do not secure their own places, seems to me to do one thing and profess another. I should advocate a fair, open, honest understanding that this is a Church with Free Seats; that members of the parish are to be provided with accommodation; that the way to secure accommodation is to become a member of this [10/11] parish; that whatever may be over our needs, we will gladly provide for visiting worshipers. I should also advocate a correction of the idea that some hold, that a Free Church is one in which any person whatever can sit wherever he pleases, and pay whatever he pleases—even nothing at all—and that the Free Church plan is designed to make men good for nothing.
The truth is that a church is built and dedicated for some particular form of worship, that persons who hold that faith and use that form are the proper persons to occupy that church, that as a congregation they should receive every becoming accommodation, that all others (from the nature of the case) are to be considered strangers and visitors until they join that parish, to whom courtesy will be shown and from whom courtesy will be expected.
Now this church was built for the use of church people—and not for any other. A congregation or number of persons of any denomination would have, by law, no right to come in and take our seats and hold any other form of worship or disturb ours. For the church was not built for that indiscriminate use. Then we have a duty as well as a right to secure accommodations for the members of this parish.
Let me read the law, and I think that what I have said will be evident, regarding our use of our own church, the behaviour of all who come here (our own people as well as strangers), and the allotment of seats for our own people. "The seats and pews in every church building or edifice, owned or occupied by any corporation organized under this act, shall be forever free for occupation and use, during public worship, of all persons choosing to occupy the same, and conducting themselves with propriety; and no rent, charge or exaction shall ever be made or demanded for such occupation or use."
It seems so plain that if we choose to join this congregation and occupy these seats during public worship, and conduct ourselves with propriety, and observe the forms and customs of the parish, we may have an allotment of seats without looking to their rental as a means of supporting the parish. I should like to see some such law and order carried out, at least at our Chief Musical Services.
But I would turn, for a last word, to subjects that touch our individual lives more, and that, after all, settle our eternal condition. Let me urge the life of faith and prayer, of sinlessness, of charity. Not all are faithful in receiving the Holy Communion as they should be. In exciting times men walk more carefully, and if we anticipated some catastrophe to end our days, we would receive [11/12] the Holy Communion more frequently and more devoutly. The Church teaches that men should receive the Holy Communion often, that so they may be prepared for sudden visitations. She would have the Divine Life a vigorous Action within us; and to this end the great Catholic Revival in our Church bends all its efforts. Men are dealt with individually; their lives are ordered by a higher standard; their sorrows and failures are cured directly by the Sacraments, which are in the Church for that purpose. And when men come, Sunday after Sunday, into the Divine Presence, and, Sunday after Sunday, reject the loving call to Communion, and go on leading the ordinary, or the sinful, life of the world, they are only playing with the time in which the Revival can become to them a reality.
It is not necessary to say much on this sacred subject, or upon the fearful responsibility which those assume who neglect and despise so great a means of salvation.
With a higher love for JESUS CHRIST, a higher standard of daily life, will come that which marks all parish life and individual glory, devotion towards God and humanity towards others. Therefore, my beloved, beginning a new parish year, let us draw nigh to God, and He will draw nigh to us, and let us provide for the sick and needy, for the Altar and for the young; and following the sacred examples of all the Saints, let us boldly approach the Throne of Grace to receive the crown of everlasting life and peace.